Observational learning and the fearful child: Influence of peer models on swimming skill performance and psychological responses

Maureen R. Weiss

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83 Scopus citations


This study examined the role of peer mastery and coping models on children’s swimming skills, fear, and self-efficacy. Children (N = 24; M age = 6.2 years), who were identified as fearful of the water, were matched to control, peer-mastery, or peer-coping model conditions. Day 1 included a preintervention assessment, Days 2–4 included exposure to model conditions followed by a 20-min swimming lesson, Day 5 consisted of postintervention assessments, and a follow-up test was conducted 4 days later. Data were analyzed in a series of 3 × 3 (Model Type × Assessment Period) repeated measures analyses of variance on the dependent variables. Results revealed differences between modeling and control groups at postintervention and follow-up, but the small sample size and large within-group variability compromised many statistically significant findings. Calculation of effect sizes indicated moderate-to-large pre- to postintervention differences between control and modeling groups on skill, self-efficacy, and fear of swimming. These findings suggest that a modeling intervention combined with swimming lessons is a more effective behavior change agent for fearful children than swimming lessons alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)380-394
Number of pages15
JournalResearch Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was conducted when Weiss, Smith, and Berlant were together at the University of Oregon. This study was supported by a grant to the first two authors from the National Association ofSport and Physical Edu- cation of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. The authors express their thanks to Maggie Georgieva, Jennifer Brennan, Megan Babkes, Sandy Sachs, and Nicole Culos for their help with data collection; Tony Amorose for his help with data collection and valuable feedback on previous drafts of this paper; Lauri Thomas and Carrie Herbison for their participation as swimming instructors; Jesse and Sammie who served as the peer models; and Moira Stuart and Susan Kasser for serving as raters of the swimming skills. The authors thank Bob Schutz for sharing his ideas about ways to analyze the performance data, and Jerry Thomas and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on a previous version of the manuscript. Please address all correspondence concerning this article to Maureen R. Weiss, Health and Physical Education, Memorial Gymnasium, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903.


  • Fear
  • Modeling
  • Self-efficacy


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